Duncan Keith has become as well known for his health and minutes played as much as his high level of play during those minutes.
There are times it seems he’s constantly on the ice – the 2015 postseason, when he played more than 715 total minutes, was a great example of that. The minutes have rarely effected the individual game, however, as Keith has consistently performed at a high level for many seasons.
Now one of the league’s most durable players is out for a month, and the Blackhawks are going to have to adjust fast.
Keith underwent successful surgery to repair a right knee meniscal tear, the Blackhawks announced on Tuesday morning. Keith, according to team physician Dr. Michael Terry, should be back within 4-6 weeks. Quenneville said he expects Keith to be ready in that time frame. Considering Keith’s fitness regimen, his teammates are expecting Keith back on schedule.
“He does everything right, on and off the ice. He’ll be doing everything he can to make sure that not only is he better in a quicker timeperiod, but he’s going to come back stronger and ready to go mentally and physically,” Jonathan Toews said. “For now, I don’t think we want him to put too much pressure on himself. It’s a long season and there will be plenty of hockey to play when he comes back, so we want him to be ready for that.”
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The defenseman played the entire game on Saturday, when the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1. Coach Joel Quenneville said there was “no defining blow” in that game that led to Keith’s injury. Quenneville and Marian Hossa said Keith had been bothered by the injury – Hossa said he talked to Keith about it a few days ago – but neither knew how long Keith had been dealing with it.
Considering that, as tough as it is to lose Keith, it might be best if he takes care of the issue now instead of waiting for it to get worse.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are going to have to play the next few weeks without their top defenseman. They’ll miss him in all areas, from 5-on-5 to the power play to the penalty kill to the locker room. The Blackhawks have long focused on a defense-first mentality, for forwards and defensemen, and that’s doubly so now.
“We all have to be responsible in team game, with or without the puck,” Quenneville said. “A lot of defensemen are going to get a lot of responsibility, quality enhanced in their ice time as well. We don’t want to change our style of play. At the same time, we want to make sure we’re playing the right way.”
“I think the good thing is everybody realizes, missing a player like that, not only the defense has to step up but the forwards,” he said. “That’s what we mean by back-checking, helping our D, helping our younger D to make it easier for them. That’s going to be important.”
Quenneville said it’s possible the Blackhawks place Keith on long-term injured reserve, which is for a player who will be out 24 days and 10 games. Keith carries a cap hit of $5.5 million per season. Fellow defenseman Michal Rozsival (ankle) is currently on LTIR and is due to come off at the end of this month.
The Blackhawks have gone without key players in previous seasons. The added wrinkle here is that it’s Keith, who is part of what’s now a very young defensive group. The Blackhawks will improvise, draw on past experiences and hopefully get a little bit more from everyone.
“When I went down, you saw this team win a lot of games 1-0, 2-1, they weren’t giving up a lot of goals, playing well defensively,” Patrick Kane said, referring to his collarbone fracture last February. “Maybe revert back to that, make sure we’re taking care of business on our side of the red line. It won’t be easy to replace him. But someone will get an opportunity to step up, whether it’s collectively as a D core or even us as forwards, to help kind of fill that void on the back end.”